“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” invites audiences to engage imaginations

July 18, 2009

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


"Welcome to the tale of a delicious adventure in a wonderful land," the narrator entreats as the curtain rises on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." With green-haired Oompa Loompas, rivers flowing with chocolate, ballooning bubble gum and other mind-blowing mishaps, the audience is invited to suspend belief during this fantastical play that entertains even as it reminds us dreams can come true. 


The Frank P. Phillips YMCA performing arts department -- now called The Master''s Theatre -- will present the whimsical story Friday and Saturday, July 31 and Aug. 1, at 7 p.m. in the Joe Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School auditorium. Tickets to the production are $6 in advance at any YMCA branch, or $7 at the door.  


The script, by Roald Dahl and adapted for the stage by Richard R. George, follows young Charlie Bucket -- played by 14-year-old Austin Wolfe -- and his colorful companions as they visit Willy Wonka''s world-famous chocolate factory. Along the way, we meet the gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Daniel Boterf), the gum-chewing Violet Beauregard (Chelsea Lester), the spoiled Veruca Salt (Anna Moss) and the preoccupied Mike Teavee (Austin Green), as well as many others. 


The flamboyant Wonka himself, portrayed by 28-year-old Daniel Talley, of Columbus, conducts an eventful tour that, in the end, proves good boys can finish first.  


"This is a delightful story for all ages," says the show''s director, Terri Gillis. "It''s full of laughs and surprises around every corner. You especially won''t want to miss the Oompa Loompas or the delightful Willy Wonka himself." 


Gillis has directed numerous YMCA theater productions in the past, including "Annie," "Pride and Prejudice," "Mayberry" and "The Secret Garden." 




Getting in character 


During a Tuesday rehearsal, Talley sported a purple, sequined vest over his T-shirt and jauntily carried a cane. He didn''t need the props to get into his over-the-top character. The outgoing Talley, who is also youth director at Schaeffer''s Chapel, says he re-watched both Gene Wilder''s (1971) and Johnny Depp''s (2005) film portrayals of the quirky candy-maker. 


"I love what both of them did; they were so different from each other, but I loved it," said the husband and father of two. "Depp portrayed Willy Wonka as a character who has overcome his circumstances. And I really liked some of the mannerisms Depp had. Then, with Wilder, Willy was more of a chess master. ... I like to think I''ve incorporated bits of both of them." 


Wolfe, the son of Kenner and Kevin Wolfe, of Columbus, has been in church skits before, but the central role as Charlie represents his first time on the boards with a YMCA production. His older brother, Andrew, is also in the play. 


"It''s a lot more acting than just lines, like a skit," Austin shared thoughtfully. "It''s harder, I think. You really have to forget what you look like on stage and be out of the box." 




Loompa Land 


One of the show''s highlights will undoubtedly be the eight bewigged Oompa Loompas. 


What''s an Oompa Loompa, one might ask? 


"A small person," responds 10-year-old Olivia Laws, the daughter of Jami and Bill Laws. 


What do they do? 


"Dance," grins Ashby Bryan, 10, whose parents are Mikki and Joe Bryan. And dance they do in the Y production. The "small people" also include Lindy Abel, Haley Boyd, Kayleigh Brown, Robbie Brown, Annabella Sills and Avery Smith.  




Fun and family  


Lindy''s father, Rob Abel, portrays Grandpa Joe, who accompanies Charlie on the wondrous tour. Abel lives in Hamilton but teaches music to middle school students in Aberdeen. He cheerfully travels to Columbus for rehearsals.  


"Just call me mayonnaise -- I''m spread out," he chuckles. This is his first YMCA production, too. "It''s really a lot of fun," he states. "The story''s got a good moral to it, and that''s huge in my life."  


Another first-timer in front of the curtain is Tiffany Cooper, playing Charlie''s mother. The 23-year-old Mississippi University for Women senior has spent previous Y productions behind the scenes, but thoroughly enjoys the inherent camaraderie.  


"Every time we have a play, it''s always a lot like a family atmosphere," she offers.  


The cast also includes Ruthie Moss, Anna Moss, Krista Green, Mikaela Green, Ariel Finch, Ray Campbell, Hannah Bateman, Tommy Parsons and Hannah Wolfe. Caren Walker serves as choreographer, and Scott Bradshaw provides musical accompaniment.  


"This is a wholesome play with family in mind, with the purpose of encouraging and inspiring the audience," Gillis concluded, encouraging parents and children to come out for what promises to be an entertaining summer evening. 


After all, Willy Wonka himself pledges, "Tremendous things are in store for you!"

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.